As the natural habitat of the Nilgai whittles down, raiding herds of the antelope regularly invade agriculture fields and feed off the crops in Uttar Pradesh

For farmers, the Nilgai is a four-footed terror. The raiding herds of this antelope, the largest of its kind in India, frequently invade fields and feed off crops. The herd tramples whatever comes in its course, causing irreparable damage to farmers.

With its sparse population and open fields, the Trans-Yamuna region of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh is a good hunting ground for the Nilgais. Here, they can manoeuvre themselves through various exit routes. 

Over the years, the natural habitat of the Nilgais has whittled down, forcing them to survive near agricultural fields. The flooding of rivers during monsoons also ensures that the Nilgais live critically close to the farms during this season. Overall, there is a sustained man-animal conflict almost throughout the year.

While they incur heavy losses, farmers are also compelled to change their farming patterns due to the regular raids. Ideally, the farmers would sow pulses like moong, chana and arhar during summer. These bring them rich dividends in the market. Some even try their hand at sowing green fertilisers during this period. But the frequent attacks by Nilgai herds have discouraged the farmers from growing pulses, which are a preferred snack for the animal. The Nilgais usually attack at night, leaving farmers little time to react, even as they maintain vigils.

In some pockets, farmers have completely given up farming pulses due to heavy losses and shifted to other crops. The farmers blame the Nilgai for the shooting up of prices of arhar.

The story is the same in much of Uttar Pradesh. In the northern parts of the Sate, the production of peas and grams has reduced substantially in the last few years due to the menace. In these areas, there are official orders to shoot the animal, despite criticism from wildlife conservationists.

While it is considered a vermin and often falls prey to renegade farmers, the Nilgai also enjoys religious reverence. This is what gives it immunity from large scale killing.

The male Nilgai has a blue-grey coat and short horns and while the female wears a tawny coat but has no horns. Villagers often confuse the antelope for cattle, owing to the word ‘gai’, which stands for cow in Hindi, and its large frame. Thus they protect the animal. The authorities, too, are cautious in giving orders to shoot the animal as it might lead to communal tension. This had lead to various demands for officially renaming the animal as Vanroz.